Welcome to the official blog of Third Place Books

Monday, November 1, 2010

Barcode Brouhaha

In the last couple of weeks the internet has been abuzz with the news of Amazon's recent release of an iPhone app that allows you go into a store, take a photograph of a product barcode, and then it will take you directly to Amazon.com where you can then buy it right then and there.

Let this sink in for just a moment.

At first blush it sounds kind of cool.  I mean, scanning and price comparing and being able to hold an item in your hands before you commit to buying it is a pretty nifty thing.  But if you stop and mull it over for a while the ramifications of an app like this become clear.

With this app Amazon is using brick and mortar stores as showrooms for the products they sell.  Without having to pay the rent on a physical location or pay booksellers who have sales acumen and actual book knowledge they are poaching the customers who might have previously said "I want to hold a book in my hand before I buy it." Is it putting the power into the customer's hands?  Sure, I suppose.  But it's also eating away at the narrow profit margins which allow places like Third Place to survive. Besides, the app is ultimately self-defeating; if all goes according to Amazon's plan they will, through undercutting and sheer brute force, physical retailers will shut down and the book "showrooms" won't exist anymore.

Do our new books cost a little more than Amazon?  Typically, yes.  They're able to negotiate larger discounts with the publishers because they're able to order staggering quantities of books.  While Amazon can order 10,000 copies of the newest James Patterson thriller, we can only order 10.  Furthermore, they use loss-leaders as a way to get you to buy more items.  They'll sell you a $25 book for $9.99, taking the monetary hit themselves, with the expectation that the money you saved on that purchase will entice you to shell out more for other items.  We don't do that to our customers.

When you buy your books from us you're doing more than just buying a book.  You're helping to fund the Third Place Commons which offers free t'ai chi classes, writing groups, and a warm, comfortable place to gather with your community.  You're helping us continue our dynamic author events program which brings in almost 30 writers per month to talk about their craft and thank you, their fans, for making them a success.  You're keeping live music on the stage every Friday and Saturday night.  But most of all you're contributing to a locally-owned, independent business where 68% of every dollar spent STAYS in the Seattle area and re-energizes the local economy. And while Amazon may technically be considered "local" to here in Western Washington they are robbing other states of sales tax dollars that fund education, public safety, and health.  Furthermore, our stock isn't decided by a single buyer sitting behind a big glass desk but rather by a team of our booksellers who live in your neighborhood and talk to customers, like you, on the sales floor every day.  In short your book purchases at Third Place Books are contributing to everything that makes us a beacon in the community.

So next time you're tempted to scan a barcode and make a purchase at Amazon.com think about it a little first and ask yourself if Amazon is going to invite your favorite author to speak right in your neighborhood or if they'll encourage you make yourself comfortable in one of their chairs while a live band serenades you from their stage and sip a delicious freshly-made americano from their in-store cafe.  Oh wait, that's right, they won't.  Well, you know where to find us.


And if we're not your local book store for Pete's sake you need to find one!  Visit the IndieBound website to find your closest independent bookstore.  

1 comment:

  1. There is one thing that Third Place and every other brick-and-motar book store will always have over Amazon: instant gratification. I think of the slightly higher price as a convenience fee. It is worth it to me to be able to read a book immediately after I buy it, not 3-5 business days later (or more if I want free shipping). Great article, Autumn.